by Dennis Dalman
When people see Salvation Army bell-ringers standing in front of area stores, they often think of holiday presents for the needy or of aid during natural disasters.
Most probably do not think – or know about – the following reasons for the Salvation Army red-kettle donations:
The 12 to 15 homeless families currently on a waiting list for the emergency shelter.
The 180-200 free community meals served every day to anyone who needs one.
The scores of breakfasts and suppers served every day of the week to clients who are staying temporarily at the shelter.
The 240 tons of food distributed from the Salvation Army every year.
What’s more, people might not know about the agency giving away free coats, hats, mittens and school supplies.
“We’re not just a holiday organization; we’re open 12 months a year,” said Jim Muellenbach of Sartell, who is the Salvation Army’s community development director. The agency’s executive officer is Major Lee Morrison.
This holiday season, there are about 150 bell-ringers in seven cities served by the Salvation Army: Sartell, St. Joseph, St. Cloud, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, Clearwater, St. Augusta (the St. Augusta mayor rings the kettle bell at Coborn’s in St. Cloud).
The ringers work anywhere from one hour to 10 hours, depending on the time they can spare, said Shannon Smithers, special-events coordinator.
This year’s goal is to raise between $225,000 and $230,000, and so far that goal is about $30,000 short for this time of year, Smithers noted. Last year, the grand total raised was $219,000.
Smithers said she is always impressed by the sheer variety of bell-ringers, who represent a veritable cross section of the community at large: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, mayors, church groups, parents with young children, hockey teams, college sororities, student councils, service organizations and more.
The red kettles and bell-ringers can be seen in front of the following stores: all Coborn’s stores, Cash Wise stores, Shopkos, Walmarts, Sam’s Club, Fleet Farm, Byerly’s, Macy’s and J.C. Penney at the Crossroads Mall.
Smithers said one reason donations may be down is because more and more people are carrying debit cards or just checks instead of cash or loose change. Some kind people, she noted, still contribute by writing out a check and dropping it in the red kettle. Others will get cash from a purchase or ATM and drop it off. Still others write a check to the Salvation Army and bring it or mail it to the East St. Cloud headquarters.
Bell-ringing volunteers are always needed, Smithers noted. Many bell-ringers make their “work” lots of fun by ringing in groups, bringing recorded music along, and a few might want to sing holiday songs or play instruments, she added.
“It’s easy to do,” she said. “All you’ve got to do is ring a bell, smile and wish people a happy holiday.”
Money raised during the red-kettle bell-ringing season makes spirits bright all year long, said Muellenbach, who gave summaries of the agency’s many services.
There are currently 69 beds in the shelter. It’s not unusual one of every four beds is occupied by a child whose parents or siblings are homeless. There are seven families currently staying at the shelter. There are more on a waiting list. Muellenbach said many who must wait probably stay at acquaintances’ or relatives’ homes or even in vehicles during warmer weather.
“Too many people have an idea the typical client at a Salvation Army shelter is a man over age 50, probably with a drinking problem,” Muellenbach said. That, however, is no longer the typical client, he noted. Families down-on-their-luck are an increasingly sad reality at the shelter.
Muellenbach said last year, the St. Cloud School District reported there were 732 homeless children counted who were homeless at one time or another during the school year. Seventy-two homeless families with children in school have been identified by the school district so far this year, Muellenbach added.
Last year, the Salvation Army tried something new to get toys to children who need them.
The staff set up a Toy Store at its East St. Cloud headquarters. Then, through various agencies, needy parents were encouraged to register to visit the store where they could choose a certain number of age-appropriate toys to give their children for Christmas.
That method works very well, Muellenbach noted.
The Salvation Army collects coats, hats and mittens in good condition and gives them away. Last year, 5,000 of those items were distributed.
The Salvation Army Food Shelf is available for people in all the cities in its region – the greater St. Cloud area.
Last year, 240 tons of food was distributed.
Second Harvest, the Twin Cities food-shelf food distributor, estimates 1.3 pounds of food equals one meal. By that measurement, the St. Cloud Area Salvation Army distributed enough food to prepare 169,000 meals last year, Muellenbach said.
“Fill the Flyer” events have been scheduled now and then throughout the area. A bus from the New Flyer Co. is periodically parked outside of stores. People who want to contribute food can purchase it in the stores and drop if off at the bus.
The optimal way, however, to help the Salvation Army Food Shelf is to donate money. The Norm Skalicky Foundation is matching amounts donated to the Salvation Army and the food shelves located at Catholic Charities and in St. Joseph. For every $20 contributed, for example, the Skalicky Foundation chips in another $20. That $40 amount can buy food in volume from Second Harvest that would total $200-worth in the normal food market. That amount, Muellenbach noted, is a 10-fold increase in food amounts from that single $20 donation.
Anyone who wants to donate food, toys or cash can drop off items at the Salvation Army, located at 400 Hwy. 10 S., St. Cloud, MN 56304; or mail a check to that address.
People who would like to spend some time ringing red-kettle bells should call Shannon Smithers at 320-252-4552.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.